In the March 19th edition he continues:
Sir - Despite my recent letter (February 23rd) you still throw the term “populist” around with abandon. Your leader (“Hope and fear”, March 1st) used the term “populist” or “populism” no fewer than five times in describing the Democratic Party's candidates.
But when we turn to your article on John McCain (“No country for old men”, March 1st) it is a completely different story. Here we read: “Mr McCain sells himself as a scourge of special interests and hammer of lobbyists. He also styles himself a hands-on reformer who has tried to fix America's campaign-finance system.” Is this not populism? If not, why not? If so, why is the word so conspicuously avoided?
Mr Morris' concern is misplaced. 'Populists' do not have to be popular; they merely have to court popularity at the expense of good policy. Of course, unless a candidate is utterly transparent in advocating a measure which he or she knows makes little sense simply to pander to a portion of the electorate, the label 'populist' will be no more than an opinion, but one can hardly accuse the Economist of shying away from regularly casting judgement on whatever it sees fit. After all, it was set up in 1848 to engage in a “severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an worthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress”, and pejorative terms form a natural part of its armoury in its self-declared struggle.
The Democratic candidates' economic policies are labelled 'populist' because the author considers them designed to improve poll ratings rather than the country's economy. John McCain's attempts at tackling Washington politics-as-usual are not cast as such because, whilst they may or may not be popular, the author considers them worthy. The sensitive reader may disagree with this analysis, but they should be challenged by it, not troubled. Elsewhere in the Economist, Mr McCain has come in for his own share of criticism, and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama their own portion of praise.
Used discerningly, 'populist' undoubtedly deserves to keep its place in the lexicon of advocacy journalism.